Sue's Blog

Bread preservative: thumbs up for ethyl alcohol, thumbs down for cultured dextrose (282 in disguise)

Helga’s “No preservative 282” – but contains cultured dextrose which is a propionate-based bread preservative

Howard and I have spent the last 3 months hiking nearly 1000 km in Europe and the UK - and of course, reading food labels. In particular we were worried about the bread preservative E282 and sure enough, we only found one loaf of preservative-free bread – in a small bakery - on the entire Coast to Coast walk in England. Obviously we wanted to avoid preservative E282 (calcium propionate) because for Howard it causes excessive fatigue, not what you want when you are trying to walking 320 km (190 miles) in 2 weeks, mostly in atrocious weather.

The good news is that bakers in Italy have developed a safe alternative to propionate-based preservatives in highly processed breads. 

Ethanol, listed as ‘Treated with ethyl alcohol’ (trattato con alcool etilico)

Italian scientists Drs Bonetto and Bortoli developed this new method of controlling mould growth in sandwich loaves (pancarre` per tramezzini) in 1996 when consumers started to demand more natural food products than propionate or sorbate based preservatives.

They were interested in ethanol because it is naturally produced by yeasts during baking and thus would be a natural alternative to preservatives. In Italy, sandwich loaves contain up to 2% ethanol wt/dry wt and do not need any addition of sorbic or propionic acid. We also found sandwich loaves in Germany with the same treatment. 


The downside: a possible alcoholic smell when you open the bag (reported here

Unfortunately we didn’t test for this ourselves because we were too busy eating a wonderful locally handmade organic wheat and potato bread. The smell is supposed to dissipate completely when the bread is toasted or heated. Doesn’t sound too difficult. Obviously I agree with Anonymous on the above-mentioned blog who says:

I think that the vapors of the alcohol as a preservative are better than the whole chemical factory of additives found in other breads.

What’s wrong with propionate based bread preservatives? e.g. 282 (calcium propionate)

It is well known that very high levels of propionic acid are neurotoxic, due to their effects in children and adults with propionic academia. Some people are more sensitive than others, yet almost no-one works out that they are affected by E282 in bread because the effects build up slowly over days or even weeks.

Symptoms may include •irritability • restlessness• inattention (could it be a coincidence that England’s classrooms were named the rowdiest in Europe while we were there?) • autistic symptoms • difficulty settling to sleep • frequent night waking •  migraines, headaches • stomach aches and other gastrointestinal symptoms such as irritable bowel, diarrhoea • urinary urgency, bedwetting, daytime incontinence (children and adults) • eczema and other itchy skin rashes • nasal congestion (stuffy or runny nose) • depression, unexplained tiredness, foggy brain • speech delay, impairment of memory and concentration • tachycardia (fast heart beat) • arrhythmia • seizures • growing pains • loud voice (no volume control) • adult acne

Little Christopher: this boy suffers from bloating and stomach aches caused by 282

What is cultured dextrose? (E282 in disguise)

In English speaking countries – where food scientists are less conscientious about nasty additives – cultured dextrose is increasingly replacing 282 because it looks so innocent.

“I thought it was like yoghurt” - health conscious breastfeeding mother whose baby was sleeping badly

The truth is that cultured dextrose is a propionate-based preservative designed to fool consumers because it looks more ‘natural’. It is no better than E282 but you have to be a food scientist to understand that. Consumers are confused, including the people who write the organic standards, so now cultured dextrose is even used in organic breads – and yes, we saw that on the Coast to Coast too.

Reader story:

The introduction of preservative 282 in purchased bread coincided with a decline in our daughter's abilities. Her bread intake increased until she was eating about 8 or more slices/day and her performance decreased until we were able to get very little work out of her as she was unable to concentrate for more than about one minute at a time.

In desperation I called her teacher who mentioned the television report on 282. I did further investigation on the net, and read your site. The result was that we returned to using our bread maker after not having used it for nearly two years. After about ten days, we had a different child. She started concentrating! She finished in 10 minutes what she previously couldn't finish in 4 hours. Her spelling started to improve as did her handwriting. She also finally learned to ride a two-wheeled bike!

As you can imagine, we were thrilled. After two years of underachieving and barely being grade level, our daughter is finally starting to accelerate and achieve some of that potential. I am grateful we had the assessment as it shows how much she was behind. We have become very angry that this preservative is allowed ...- by email, see more in the propionate story collection:


I regard propionate-based preservatives as the worst additives of all, because

  • they are used in a staple product eaten many times a day
  • reactions build up so slowly that consumers fail to recognise the problem
  • they are hidden under innocent sounding names, even in organic and gluten free products
  • they do not make bread last longer as consumers think, they only prevent mould
  • they could be replaced by better sanitation (there’s no mould on freshly baked bread)

What you can do

  • Vote with your dollars - never buy bread or wraps with propionate-based preservatives
  • Demand bread that is preservative free or treated with ethyl alcohol instead

More information

Our factsheet

J. Bonetto and A. Bortoli, "Development and retention of ethyl-alcohol in sandwich loaves, Industrie Alimentari, 35(354), 1996, pp.1283-1286, as described in:  P. Dantigny et al. Modelling the effect of ethanol on growth rate of food spoilage moulds International Journal of Food Microbiology 98 (2005) 261–269

Sanitation needed to prevent mould growth in bread:

Cultured dextrose consists of an undefined mixture of fermentation metabolites, including … propionic …”    - Wikipedia article obviously written by a Big Food advocate

Test your food additive knowledge here